No matter how big the business, there are some questions that are always relevant and, if answered with insight, honesty and creativity, will give you armfuls of value. Here are some useful strategy questions I use with groups and individuals:
- What’s our high-impact proposition? How do you stop people in their tracks when you describe what you do? Whether you position on price, quality, features or service, it needs to be as jaw-dropping and memorable as you can make it. E.g. The Three Star Dining Experience for Private Aircraft, The best stocked toy shop in Scotland, All of your Emirati decision-makers in one place, The only software the doctor needs to manage the practice, Print delivered in 24 hours or its free. If you don’t have one, are you in danger of being an also-ran?
- What problem are we solving? All products or services have a job to do – to solve a problem. How enduring is the problem? How well are you solving it? Could you solve it faster, easier, cheaper?
- What adjacent businesses opportunities are attractive? What other problems could you solve for the same customer? What products or services sit easily with yours? How might you increase your share of the customers’ spending?
- How does this make money? Does the margin come from the thing you do that is valuable or from a peripheral activity? For instance, does your sandwich shop make more money from high-margin hot drinks? Is it the difference between your purchase price and your sale price on product components? Knowing where the money really comes from will allow you to address or optimise this.
- How can we engineer the lowest price (cost) business in our segment? Most companies want to have the highest price. Not amazon. They aim to have the lowest cost/lowest price. That way, they are never in conflict with the interests of their customers. And they are always competitive. It’s a change of mindset. Which of your costs elements are out of kilter with the value they provide and what can you do about that? For instance, can you outsource, streamline or automate to reduce overhead or variable costs?
- How can we optimise our system or core process? Draw a process flow that defines the customer acquisition/production/service provision flow from beginning to end. What can we do at each stage to:
Create meaningful and highly appreciated WOW! moments for the customer
- How can we improve our sales system? For instance, how can you get better at identifying and engaging with prospective customers? How well do you take a systematic step-by-step process to engaging new customers? How can you better sell competitively face-to-face? Most sales take a number of interactions to come to fruition? Do you create that journey well? It will improve your strike rate.
- Which opportunities should we take to scale the business? Many good business growth stories are about scaling geographically or into new customer segments or just plain old market penetration. How should you do this?
- How do we become the best in our market? Who do you need on board to give you the best possible team? What elements of your product or service do you need to improve or change to become the best provider?
- How do we lengthen our revenue streams? It’s a hard life if your order book is empty next week/month/quarter and your sales are variable? Living hand to mouth does not encourage bold strategic steps. What can you do to engage customers for longer, get contracts instead of merely orders? Could you use this as a quid pro-quo in a financial negotiation? “We could go to 15% if you will extend from 2 to 3 years.” Could you be charging a monthly retainer for a defined and highly attractive package of support?
- How do we improve performance? Break your business down into operations in a process flow. Score each component operation of your business on a gut-feel %. What’s your plan to fix the low-score but high impact areas of the business? Redesign the process? Better equipment? Training? Better management? New people? Performance feedback? Incentives?
- How do we get faster at everything? The fastest mover has an advantage at all points along the interaction with customers. Fastest response to sales enquiries builds advantage. Fastest delivery gets chosen, even fastest to invoice collects cash quickest. What can you do to engineer for speed?
- How do we differentiate? Draw a timeline. Now define each moment of interaction with your customers upon it. What can you do at each moment to create a high-value difference between you and competitors? Which do you choose to deploy?
- What is the plot? Imagine your business was a film or play. It’s constructed of five (or whatever) acts. What are they? E.g.
Act 1: Deluxe ice cream van triumphs at regional summer events.
Act 2: Additional three vans and two semi-permanent refrigerated carts in shopping centres added.
Act 3: Begins manufacture of own ice creams and selling under the Luxe brand.
And so on.